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Bills aim to toughen child support law

January 14, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Debbie Wilson just wanted to be heard.

Wilson, 25, of Hagerstown, said she has been involved for years in a struggle to collect child support payments for her son. Along the way she has run into to her share of legal and bureaucratic walls.

But frustration isn't something she can take sitting down.

"There is something I can do about it," she said Tuesday, after testifying before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Wilson, speaking nervously at times, urged the panel to approve two pieces of legislation aimed at parents who fail to pay child support. One bill would require prison and jail inmates to continue to pay child support after they are incarcerated.

Child support often is suspended when a prisoner goes to jail and is resumed only when the prisoner is released, officials said.

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"I don't think that's right, just because he's incarcerated. The child still has to eat," said Wilson, a clerical worker for a local trucking firm.

"I know this is hard to believe, but there are actually people who prefer to go to jail than pay their child support," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. C. Edward Middlebrooks, R-Anne Arundel.

Speaking against the bill was Alternative Directions Inc., an organization that provides legal assistance to prisoners and their families. Mary Joel Davis, the group's executive director, said inmates could accumulate thousands of dollars in debt while in jail.

"I don't know of one person I have ever met in my life who wants to be in jail because they don't have to pay child support," Davis said.

The other bill Wilson spoke in favor of was legislation, also sponsored by Munson, that would require child support enforcement fees to be paid by the parent failing to pay child support.

The fees, which total $35, now are deducted from child support payments.

Again, Wilson made her pitch that the wrong people are being hurt.

"The reason I'd like this bill to be passed is because the funds are being taken away from the child," she said.

David A. Engle, director of the Washington County Department of Social Services, said that, while he understands the fairness issue, there is some concern the government would have difficulty collecting such fees from someone who already has failed to pay child support.

Wilson, who approached lawmakers about her concerns with child support laws last summer, said she was glad she took the initiative to complain loudly enough that someone listened. Even if the bills are not approved by the General Assembly, at least she got her points across, she said.

"I'm not just here for myself. I'm also here for other people going through the same situation," she said.

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